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January 27, 2017

Earlier this week, Donald Trump revived the Global Gag Rule. The executive order that he signed on his first official working day, surrounded by a group of old white men, bans any organization that shares any information on abortion from receiving U.S. government funding – even if that part of their work is funded from other sources.

This announcement was deliberately timed to retaliate against the millions of women who took to the streets in the U.S. and around the world only days earlier to demand their rights.

Trump’s actions mean that women worldwide are set to lose access to health programs, because the organizations that run the clinics they use are likely to stop providing a wide range of sexual and reproductive health rights services so as to keep their federal funding.

Here at ActionAid, we don’t accept U.S. government funding – and this is one of the many reasons. We believe that women’s rights are human rights and that women and girls have the right to make decisions about their bodies. Women should have access to the full range of their sexual and reproductive rights, and this includes abortion services.

When the Global Gag Rule has been put in place by previous administrations, access to contraception to prevent pregnancy in the first place was reduced, increasing unwanted pregnancies. Withdrawing the funding also forces women to go to unlicensed clinics to get the help they need – and this only increases risks to their health.

The World Health Organization estimates that 21.6 million women undergo unsafe abortions around the world every year. And unsafe abortions account for 13 percent of all maternal deaths globally. This is likely to increase due to the Global Gag Rule being brought back.

Our work supports women and girls in over 40 countries around the world so they’re aware of their rights. We stand with women in Guatemala as they fight for access to maternal healthcare. We support young urban women and girls in South Africa, India, and Ghana so they can understand and claim their rights so they’re not forced into marriage if they become pregnant.

We believe that women’s rights are human rights and that women and girls have the right to make decisions about their bodies.

We take the next step in places like South Africa, where the right to reproductive health services is guaranteed by the law, but women need support to challenge norms and injustice that prevent them from accessing and claiming those rights in clinics. Our local staff and partners talk to them about all their options, including abortion – particularly when their health is at risk. Since our emphasis is on the choice of women and girls, in places such as India where there is pressure to abort girl babies, ActionAid defends women’s rights to choose to keep their babies.

We also supported a young woman named Guadeloup Vasquez who worked as a maid in El Salvador – and her story really shows why these services are needed. She became pregnant at 17, when she was raped by her neighbor. And she planned to call the baby Gabriel.

One day during her pregnancy, Guadeloup experienced intense pain and bleeding, but her employer refused to let her leave the house to get medical care. She gave birth to her baby boy unaided and heard him cry. And then he died.

Her employer sent her to the hospital saying she did not want to “deal with two dead in my house.” But four days after arriving at the hospital, Guadeloup was put on trial and sentenced to 30 years in prison for having a miscarriage. She is one of a number of women who have been jailed in El Salvador, accused of causing the death of their fetus or infant.

Abortions are illegal in El Salvador on all grounds, including when the mother’s life or health is in danger – and also in cases of rape. Women and girls can’t get an abortion, even if their lives are at risk or if their fetus won’t survive. But the law takes it to another extreme: putting women in prison who say the loss of their baby wasn’t their doing.

Those who defy the law and seek unsafe abortions at unlicensed clinics face horrifying consequences. In 2008 the World Health Organization reported that 9% of maternal deaths in Central America were the result of such procedures.

A Salvadoran organization successfully campaigned to get Guadeloup a pardon, and she was released after serving more than seven years in overcrowded prisons.

This is what happens when the full range of sexual and reproductive rights aren’t available to women and girls. And that’s why we’ll continue to provide women around the world with information and support on their full range of rights.

We’ll also resist all attempts to make abortion illegal here in the United States. No one has the right to tell women what to do with their bodies – that includes Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and the rest of their administration.

If you’re interested in supporting our work, you can make a donation here.